Claiborne County's Second-Chance Buck

Here's a story: a Mississippi hunter redeeming an early-season miss to bag the buck of a lifetime. Apparently, lightning does sometimes strike twice! (August 2007)

Ramey Harrell was hunting in Claiborne County in mid-December 2006 when he bagged his big typical buck.
Photo courtesy of Ramey Harrell.

Most hunters with at least a couple of seasons behind them know the heartache of a muffed shot. If that shot connected, but didn't result in the animal's being recovered, the ache is enhanced, often to the point of physical illness.

But even when the shot misses cleanly -- which we all prefer to the other situation -- the confusion and questioning and shades of disgust persist. There is an ongoing instant replay of the events that led up to the error; there may even be sleepless nights. Anxiety can breed a lack of confidence, and those moments when errant arrows or bullets fly astray are not easily overcome.

But even such wrenching events don't have to signal that all's lost. A hunter can first make sure equipment isn't at fault. If it is, see to the repair; if it's not, a review of personal discipline may be in order -- and that usually translates into practice. Above all, a hunter shouldn't permit himself to conclude that he's incapable of accomplishing the task of finishing the kill as it should and must be done. Rather, as the old saw advises, get right back on the horse when you fall off it.

And that's exactly what happened with Ramey Harrell, a Leake County native from Carthage, who now lives in Natchez. A skilled hunter, Harrell experienced one of those sickening episodes this past hunting season. But he didn't despair -- he regrouped, and went back to basics, and as a result, he won. This is his story.

THE HUNTER

"I grew up with a deep passion for the outdoors," Harrell said. "As a young child, I did a lot of hunting with my dad. I really started doing a lot of deer hunting when I was in high school and could get around on my own. I grew up really liking the outdoors."

Harrell noted that his love of nature and being outside were instrumental in his choice of a career. Being confined to an office wasn't for him, so he chose something that would perhaps afford some opportunity to be outdoors.

"I knew I wanted to do something in the outdoors," he said, "so I decided to go to school in forestry. I went to Mississippi State University and graduated with a degree in forestry in 1999. I then went to work here at home with International Paper. I enjoy my work -- I am able to be outdoors and in the woods."

THE HUNT

"Two years ago," Harrell continued, "I moved with IP to Natchez. I really didn't have anywhere to hunt there. I tried public land a little.

"That same year, my brother-in-law, Kevin Trest, invited me to go hunting with him in Claiborne County. He and his family have a camp there they have had for maybe 30 years. I went and hunted as a guest a couple of times. I took a doe that season.

"I really fell in love with that place. There were big rubs on trees, and there was hog sign. I had never experienced any of that growing up. There were no hogs on the places I hunted at home, and even though I had taken three or four bucks in the 125-to-130 range, I had never taken a monster like those big rubs indicated were present on that club.

"Luckily, the next year my brother-in-law invited me to join the camp with him, his dad, and his mom. That family was the only ones who hunted there. I was fortunate to get to join."

Harrell recalled that during the first year of his membership, he didn't get to hunt much, as he was busy with work for the entire season, and so didn't take a deer from the property. "I didn't really see a lot of deer," he noted. "I think I was hog hunting more than deer hunting, because I had never seen a hog in the wild, and I always wanted to shoot one, especially with my bow."

But that was not to be for this hunter. The family took several good bucks, but Harrell's limited time interfered with his success.

"That next year -- 2006 -- started out good for me," he recounted. "Opening day of bow season, I took a boar, something that I had always wanted to do. I went on to take a doe, but after that I didn't get to do much hunting. I planned to take some vacation time around Thanksgiving and Christmas to deer hunt."

Deer management, in various forms, has become the norm across most of Mississippi. And while the camp where Harrell hunts doesn't concentrate on specific management practices, an informal program is certainly in place. The group looks for mature bucks and they also take does.

"We have a lot of thick places on our land, and most of the area around us is open and big woods," Harrell said. "And there is a lot of management in the area to grow nice bucks. So this area is intensively managed for good bucks."

In Mississippi, early-to-mid December is reserved for the primitive weapons season. Originally open only to archery gear and muzzleloading rifles, the season was recently expanded to allow the use of single-shot rifles like those used before 1890, as long as these are of .38 caliber or larger.

Emerging as the most popular to date is the .45-70 Government cartridge fired in a variety of single-shot rifles. Scopes have been legal on muzzleloaders for several years, and that optics option carried over to the cartridge rigs and is now legal for them also. Just such a scoped single-shot .45-70 is exactly what Harrell selected for his primitive weapons season this past year.

"Dec. 8 -- Friday -- I was at work," Harrell recalled. "I had bought a new .45-70 to use during the primitive weapons season, but I hadn't had time to shoot it and sight it in. We had a big hunt planned for that weekend at camp. Everybody was coming down. I needed to shoot the .45-70 and get it ready for the weekend hunt.

"I left work about 3:00 and ran out to the camp to sight the rifle. On the way out I saw several deer crossing the road. A cold front was coming through, and a lot of deer were moving. When I pulled up to the camp, there were several deer in the yard where some grass was."

Harrell got his sighting chores done and decided that he had a few minutes to go hunting. "It was a spur-of-the-moment deal," he said. "I didn't have a four-wheeler, so I decided to walk to a stand about 10 minutes away. My brother-in-law and his dad had seen a good buck cross down there -- a 20- to 22-inch 10-point.

"We had a Sunday school Christma

s party at the church that night, and my wife asked that I please be back home by 6:30 so we could make it to the party in time. I decided I had plenty of time to hunt and still get back home, but I would have to leave by 5:30. I had to get out of the stand by 5:10 or so. It was getting dark by that time, anyway, then.

"I was hunting on a hill with a bottom out in front of me," the hunter continued. "I had found this area earlier, and there were two nice trails that led up to a food plot. I speculated that deer were moving up that way to the plot. I found a tree where I could see both trails at some point."

At this point, the impromptu hunt got really interesting. "I had been there about 10 or 15 minutes when I saw some does headed to the plot," said Harrell. "I was watching my time to be sure I could make it to the Christmas party. About 5:10, I was getting ready to climb down, and I looked down and saw a deer coming up the trail.

"When I looked through the scope, I could see it was a good buck; I took the shot. I guess I might have rushed the shot: When I shot, the deer just disappeared. It was a thick area, and I thought I saw the deer go down through the scope, but I never saw him again. I assumed that I had killed the deer."

It was then that one of life's little crises became part of the story. "The deer was across a gully," Harrell said, "and it was going to take a while to get across. I thought I had killed him. He was the biggest deer I had ever seen. I knew he was 20 inches wide, a 9- or 10-point.

"I climbed down, looking at my watch and trying to make up my mind: Go look at the deer, or go home? I knew if I looked at the deer I would be late for the Christmas party, but if I left then I could make it.

"My brother-in-law and family were coming down to the camp, and I decided I could go to the party and come back to the camp to run down and get the deer out. It was really cold that evening anyway. I left and went to the Christmas party -- like a good husband should!"

Harrell and his friends, who were also hunters, obviously ended up talking about deer hunting that evening. They listened with great interest as Harrell related his story, confident that he would return to the site and collect his buck. A frequent question that evening: Did he know whether or not he'd actually killed the buck?

"I told them I saw the deer go down," Harrell recalled. "I left the party a bit early and went home, grabbed my hunting stuff and some extra clothes, and took off to camp." It wouldn't be long before Harrell determined the real outcome of his hunt of the preceding afternoon.

"My brother-in-law and others were waiting for me. We jumped on the four-wheeler and drove down to where I had shot the buck. We got off and walked down. I was expecting to see the deer lying there."

Unfortunately, that's not how the scenario played out. "We didn't find any sign," the sportsman lamented, reliving his disappointment. "I realized then why the deer had disappeared. There was a little entrenched area I couldn't see from the stand. The deer had gone down in a little ditch about as wide as the deer and run up the ditch."

Next, Harrell shined his flashlight back toward the stand. He saw that between the point at which the buck had been standing and the hunter's stand was a splintered sweet gum tree -- a discovery that told the disheartening story. "That .45-70 did a number on the tree!" Harrell said, chuckling. "I realized then that I had missed the deer.

"I didn't sleep much that night. I went back to that same stand the next morning and got down around mid morning; I even went back that afternoon. I saw several does come through, headed to the plot. I knew if I stayed in there and stayed with him, I might get another shot at the deer. After that Saturday evening, I went home."

Harrell recalls that he and his family had planned to go to Carthage the following weekend to visit. As a result of that, he didn't get back to camp. But after the visit he left his family there with relatives and went back to Natchez so that he could make it to work on Monday, Dec. 18.

Since he was home by himself and had his four-wheeler loaded, he opted to go out to the camp that afternoon. He planned to leave work by 3:00 so that he'd have time to get to his stand -- but it was closer to 4:00 before he actually got away.

"I took off straight to the stand," he recounted. "I was getting in the climber and had hooked up my rifle to pull it up. I looked and saw two does in the bottom. They jumped up and took off down one of the main trails; I figured I had messed up. I knew I was late, and probably shouldn't have come. But I was there anyway at this point, and I went ahead and climbed."

The primitive weapons season had closed a day or so earlier, and the regular rifle season had opened. On this hunt Harrell had traded the .45-70 for his 7mm Mag. A-Bolt. "I had been there about 30 minutes," he said. "It was pushing 5:00. I looked up, and out of nowhere, down the same trail the two does ran off on, I saw a buck. He was broadside; I could see that he was good."

The buck's rack, clearly visible, looked quite tall. "There was one opening. If I didn't take him there I wasn't going to get a shot. I put the scope on him and pulled the trigger. I saw the deer go down."

There was no mistaking a solid hit this time! Harrell had connected with an excellent buck. Was this the one from weeks earlier? Probably, but at the moment Harrell wasn't sure. "I never got a head-on look at the buck to tell how big he was," he admitted, "and I guess it was a good thing I didn't -- because I probably would have missed!"

Harrell eased out of the woods back to his truck and drove up the hill to get a cell phone signal. At that point he called his brother in Carthage and told him the story. The hunter then drove to a nearby store to get a soft drink and candy bar before beginning the task of extracting the buck from the woods. He was alone, and this might prove quite an arduous chore.

"I went back to camp and got everything ready to clean the deer," Harrell said. "I jumped on the four-wheeler and ran down there where the deer was."

THE BUCK

"When the flashlight hit the rack," Harrell recalled, "I saw how wide it was. I just stood there in amazement, seemed like five minutes, just looking. I couldn't believe it." He managed to get the buck loaded onto the four-wheeler.

When he got to camp he began calling various people to check in. "I called my brother and told him this was the deer I shot at with the .45-70 earlier," he said. "I told him I thought that this buck was 25 inches wide. Nobody was around the camp, so I asked my brother if he would help me clean the deer if I came back there. My family was there anyway, so I loaded the deer into my truck and headed to Carthage. I stopped to show the deer to everybody I knew between Port Gibson and Carthage!"

Harr

ell's brother Jeff, family members, and a collection of interested onlookers added to the celebration that night. The deer was cleaned and put in the freezer; the cape and rack was readied for the taxidermist.

When finally measured, Harrell's buck's antlers did indeed have the 25-inch width that the hunter reported to his brother. The rack, carrying 10 points, gross-scored 168 7/8 Boone and Crockett points.

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